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The unobvious obvious – from the tent to the monastery

Nieoczywista oczywistość - od namiotu do klasztoru

I was 22 years old. Until then, it never even crossed my mind that I could be a nun. The nuns taught me catechism and went on retreats with me; some I liked and appreciated, others were annoying. None of this, however, either distanced me from their world or brought me closer to it – I found it alien, indifferent to my affairs. I had my life and my plans. They were quite good, so natural, even typical for a girl growing up: I dreamt of getting married, having a bunch of children and a small house with a garden. I wanted to live a colourful and full life; I loved dancing, horse-riding, skiing, studying and reading books. I was passionate about music and the fine arts. I had devoted friends with whom we went to church. I had been dating a boy for a year with whom I was increasingly in love.


The event through which the Lord God “did something to me” is difficult to describe; it is very simple. I went on a holiday retreat and one of the points of the day was a so-called tent of meeting – a sort of individual meditation on the Word of God. Our retreat leader decided that we would do this in a small parish church in front of the Blessed Sacrament on display. If I remember correctly, on that day when everything changed, we were given the text of a sequence to the Holy Spirit to ponder. My prayer was ordinary, very rational, there was little emotion in it and nothing of what is popularly called mysticism – no rapture. It was just as usual. The Lord God stepped in, as if to “cut” the thread of my thinking and without words put into my head the REALITY – the simple TRUTH that I was going to be a nun. There were no questions or suggestions involved – it was like a frame from the future but more certain than the present. Something so very much not mine that I didn’t even have a shadow of a doubt that it was from Him.


In a split second I was faced with all the things in my life so far that will have to be left behind: the red dresses, the dancing, the horses and – I’ll mention the poor man at the end – Peter. And… I was furious. Because I DON’T WANT TO and IT’S CLEAR THAT I’M TOTALLY NOT GOING TO DO IT! I ran out of the church all weepy and kicked a birch tree. Then there were three days when I did nothing else but cry and try to hide it from others. Then there was a day of confession at which the priest who happened to be there treated me a bit like I was hysterical and advised me not to tell anyone about what I had experienced and to wait for things to clear up. Only it was clear to me already, I also had to tell my boyfriend why I was keeping him at arm’s length. When Peter came to pick me up after the retreat was over and found out everything, he once again proved to be a smart guy. He said to me, all snotty and sobbing: “don’t worry, Jolka, the Lord God won’t hurt us”.


I entered the monastery six years later. What did I do for so long? In the beginning I prayed more, mostly it was something like: “if you want me, make me!”. I also went to Mass more often and waited eagerly for the Lord God to somehow convince me, explain something to me, somehow draw me. None of this came. After a while, the event lost its freshness and was relegated to the further recesses of memory. Although there was at least one moment every day when I thought “after all, I should go to the monastery”, I was drawn more forcefully into the course of current affairs: studies, duties, interests, people. At the same time, although it lasted a few years, the relationship with Peter was loosening up – mainly because other men appeared on the horizon who more or less fascinated me. In the meantime, I did the “minimum of decency” twice, i.e. I went on a vocation retreat with some sisters I knew. However, I received no answers to my questions and lamentations such as: “why is God doing this to me?”. I left weeping and without the strength to make any decision. However, I was leaving behind something that I appreciate today – prayer of the sisters. At the retreat I also heard the beautifully sung Liturgy of the Hours which became the element of religious life that attracted me. I also experienced a certain goodness that helped me to return to the same congregation later on: it was the gentleness of the sister who led this retreat and never pressured me; never maintained contact pushily. She gave me time.


And somehow he was filling in. I felt that I was like a ripe apple that someone should already pick and eat because in a moment it would fall and rot. I had already had so many experiences of my own weakness and vacillation that I saw more and more clearly that if I didn’t go to the monastery, I would simply waste away. I was enjoying less and less everything that once seemed so important and interesting. And then… did I go to the convent? Well, no. Then… I fell in love once again. This time completely. And it was with a man who suited me like a glove but was unsuitable – or at least in Catholic terms. Today I thank God for this “crowning argument” in the discussion, but at the time it was a time of great trial and great suffering for me. I also finally parted ways with Peter. I started to ask myself what I really want; what is in my deepest desire. I read book that helped me, including St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Humanity. They made it easier for me to understand the contradictions I was finding in myself; it was easier for me to prepare for a decision of the will to go against the flow of desires. The Lenten catechesis on the cross was also very helpful at that time, for “whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself…”.


I think that the grace of the final decision was prayed for me by my Loretto sisters. I had seen enough arguments for the path of vocation but my will could not keep up with them. All I had was promises to God that “if nothing changed, I would go next year”, and… nothing ever came of it. I made the decision just like that – on the train. I don’t know why right there and then. Today, I am ashamed of my small-mindedness in responding to God’s call. Of the biblical figures, I think the closest to me is Jonah. And yet the Lord God also takes what is small and does what He wants with it. I keep praying for a greater love for Him. I will write about the story of my vocation in the monastery when I am old and wise.

Sister Barbara


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